Reviews Matter

A critical analysis of the 5-star experience

Friday, April 2, 2021
A critical analysis of the 5-star experience

At Trustpilot, we love a 5-star review. These reviews mean that a business exceeded a customer’s expectations and that the customer felt like they got everything they wanted and often more. But how often is this genuinely reflective of our experience?

Trustpilot is on a mission to upgrade the world and we can do this by providing a platform for consumers to share genuine and honest experiences with businesses. This is why we’re taking a closer look at what it means to truly have a 5-star experience, what factors should be considered before we decide on what star rating to give our experiences, and what it means to leave a less-than-5-star rating.

A history of 5-star ratings

The star rating has its earliest roots in travel guidebooks. In 1820, Mariana Starke published Travels on the Continent: written for the use and particular information of travellers, which used exclamation marks to indicate objects of note with “one or more exclamation points indicating those works which are deemed peculiarly excellent.” Other guidebook authors quickly adopted this system of indicating noteworthiness using symbols and ultimately migrated from exclamation points to stars.

Today, the star rating is now used in a myriad of rating systems, but one of the most well known is by hotel associations. Most of these organizations use stringent criteria for assigning star ratings to hotel properties and, while each association has its own specific criteria, a common definition can be used to describe 5-star hotels around the world.

These are properties that exemplify luxury throughout the entire experience and in all aspects of the hotel's operation. Services are highly convenient and personalized, and there is the utmost attention to detail and quality. Every need has been anticipated and accommodated in advance. And as we daydream about staying at a hotel that is the epitome of luxury, we should also consider what it means to have the equivalent of a white-gloved-butler-and-nightly-turndown-service experience...with a business?

Evaluate your experience thoroughly

There’s a common misconception that if an experience is generally good, it deserves a 5-star review (or conversely, anything less than 5-stars means an experience was entirely negative). But considering the hotel analogy above, we can take a more critical look at a 5-star experience and consider what those experiences really look like.

Think about the last transaction you had with a business, then think about every single aspect of that transaction from start to finish. If it was good, how good was it? Equivalent to a white glove butler delivering your luggage to your room and unpacking for you as a courtesy? Or was it more like having to drag your luggage up three flights of stairs with no help?

We realize that not every experience with a business is this black and white, but what we’re really asking is for you to consider the entire experience and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What was your reason for engaging with the business and what were your expectations going into this experience?
  • Was the transaction personalized or tailored in any way?
  • Were all commitments kept? Stock availability? Shipping times? Wait times?
  • If you interacted with a person who worked for the business, what was that experience like?
  • Overall, were your expectations met, or were they exceeded?

These are not the only questions to ask yourself and there are hundreds of other considerations when evaluating an experience, but the point is that we should look at every touchpoint of an experience critically.

You may be thinking “Why are you asking me to think about my experience in this much detail? Isn’t leaving a 5-star review for a business a good thing?” When a business goes above and beyond we think a 5-star rating is one of the best things you can do to say ‘thank you’ to that business. But we also know that when you give businesses constructive feedback and a star rating to match the improvements needed, this is how that business can learn and improve, and collectively we can upgrade the world.

Don’t feel guilty about leaving a lower-than-5-star rating

If you’ve ever left a review that is less than five stars, you may have experienced that momentarily feeling of guilt before submitting your review. You start thinking about the person from the business reading your review and how they may feel personally offended over the feedback and wonder if you should modify your star rating, or even abandon the review altogether.

If this describes how you feel when leaving a less-than-5-star review, we understand, but we also have some good news: lower star ratings with a significant amount of detail and suggestions for improvement are a good thing (and definitely not something to feel guilty about if they are a genuine reflection of a business experience).

To start collectively upgrading the world, businesses need to hear how they can do their part. More shipping options. Improved online user experience. Faster customer service responses. More customization options. Most businesses want to know that these improvements would make their customers happier and are looking for opportunities to upgrade themselves.

We’ve taken this further and outlined the case for 2, 3, and 4-star reviews and how businesses benefit from this feedback in our companion article here.

Review, revisit and revise

Businesses are flawed and can make mistakes. Whether it’s a package being delivered late or a long wait on the customer service line or a glitch on the website, there are a million ways something can go wrong, prompting us to leave that much-needed critical feedback in a review.

But if you’re willing to give the business a second chance and have a change in experience (hopefully for the better!), it’s worth letting the business (and other reviewers) know that the issue has been addressed.

As we stated previously, we love a 5-star review but what makes us even happier is when we see someone change their review to a 5-star review, because that’s what upgrading the world really means.

Regardless of your star experience, businesses on Trustpilot are waiting to hear from you. Help us upgrade the world by leaving them a review on Trustpilot.

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